During my junior year of college my friend and I decided to go skydiving.
I don’t remember how we came up with the idea. What I do remember is how we tried to get any one of our 14 dorm mates to go with us and not a single one wanted to. So we drove by ourselves, along with one of our friends who agreed to take pictures, up to the skydiving location.
It was an absolutely beautiful day. A breezy 72, sun bursting out onto a light blue sky. The place was simple – mostly mowed down fields with a few airstrips a little ways off and a small, single-story white building where training took place.
We took a second before we got out of the car, deciding whether or not to turn around and call the whole thing off. We decided the pain (aka embarrassment) of not going was greater than actually going through with it.
The three of us entered the building to sign in and begin our training. That hour flew by. My heart felt like it was about to jump out of my body and I wasn’t even near a plane yet! The training consisted of a 30 minute video telling us what not to do in the plane or in the air, along with a few scripted warnings. After that we moved into another room where we met our tandem partners and practiced the positions we would take in the plane and in the air.
Before we knew it, we were geared up walking towards a small, dilapidated plane. As if we weren’t terrified enough already, you could literally see the ground from inside the plane. There were gaps and dents throughout the hull. It felt as though the mechanic had run out of actual tools and resorted to using duct tape to hold the plane together.
Slowly the plane got started. My friend and I exchanged looks one last time. We both looked like we wanted to throw up but there was no going back now. As the plane began to climb our tandem partners strapped in behind us – binding our life to theirs. After a few more minutes we were at the jumping point.
“Just like we practiced” my partner yelled toward me. He leaned over me and pulled the airplane door open. Carefully, we took a few steps forward and I let my body feel the wind rushing in. I looked down. We were above the clouds and the ground below looked like one of those carpets children play on that have streets and fields. Only everything was much tinier and much more real.
My heart was in my throat at this point. I could feel the sweat on my palms and neck turning into waterfalls. I wanted to throw up, hide, scream, and quit all at the same time. If there was a go or a now, I didn’t hear it. The next thing I knew we were outside of that plane and all I could hear was air.
When you skydive the first minute or two are free fall depending on how high you go. During that time you fall insanely fast. By the time I got the courage to look back the plane seemed a mile away and I could see my friend with his partner falling towards us. I looked back down and the ground didn’t feel any closer. Even though we were falling at an incredible rate of speed, it felt like we were frozen in that moment. Right before we pulled the parachute I had the strangest feeling. I was somewhere I had never been (thousands of feet in the air) but it felt good, it felt familiar.
Maybe that was all the adrenaline and blood rushing through my body making me feel that way but I’ll never forget the peace I had while I was falling. It was surreal.
Finally, I heard a soft pop as the shoot flung open and I was catapulted upward a few feet. The fall slowed dramatically. It was only when the shoot slowed us down that I realized how fast we were really going. My partner leaned forward, “How was that for your first skydive?”
When we try to talk about faith and peace they always seem so intangible. Trying to actually convey what they are or why they matter is like trying to describe a smell.
How would you describe a vanilla candle? Soft, sweet, calming. But that doesn’t capture what the vanilla scent truly is. Nor does it help you recognize the smell. The only way to know if a scent is vanilla is if it’s labeled or if you have smelled it before and recognize it.
Faith and peace work in a similar way. When the Bible says that God wants us to have faith or to feel peace, what does that actually mean?
For me, it means remembering the day I skydived. I was terrified but I went through training, I walked into that plane, I jumped out of that plane and trusted my tandem partner to know when to pull the parachute. I took action in every scene, but so did they. They offered me training, provided the plane, prepped me for the jump and made sure I landed safely – because when the time came our fates were tied together.
This is the Christian life. This is the life of faith we see in every one of our heroes from the Bible. They stepped out, even when they felt like their heart was going to jump out of their chests. They moved and watched as God moved with them. How he prepared the way, and how in the direst of straits they saw their God buckle the tandem suit onto them and heard him say “I’m with you, always.”
Because real, deep, satisfying peace doesn’t come when things are safe. It can’t. It gets blocked by comfort and squished by routine. Peace can only find you when you’re out in the open, when you’ve abandoned what you know and jumped. Peace finds you when your falling and the parachute hasn’t opened yet and you’re wondering when God’s going to step in. That’s when God does what makes no sense – he sends peace instead of an answer, he sends his peace instead of solving your problem.
His peace arrives just in time to encourage our faith. “I’m here, I know, it’s not over, I’m doing something…something great.”
Skydiving was one of the most amazing and terrifying events of my life. I’ll never forget it. And I think God wants to take us skydiving. He wants to give us extraordinary experiences and we want to live them, but we don’t want the cost that comes with them – the sacrifice, the fear, the lack of control.
We will never know true faith and true peace until we are catapulted into situations entirely outside of our control. Until we jump, we will only understand those words the way someone who has never smelled a vanilla candle understands soft and sweet. They can try and imagine, but the real thing is indescribable. Just like our God.